Book Review – Philip Pugh’s “Science and Art of Using Telescopes”

Forums General Discussion Book Review – Philip Pugh’s “Science and Art of Using Telescopes”

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    Michael E. Marotta

    The Science and Art of Using Telescopes, by Philip Pugh, Springer, 2009. 

    The essence of the book is given in the opening. Get past the beginner stage by finding new interests; specialize in subbranches of observational astronomy (page 2; page 4). After that, the writing devolves into a rambling monologue directed at knowledgeable amateurs. The information provided serves more as reminders of what we know, rather than providing new learning or directing us to important resources. Early on and throughout, the author tells us to find out about the current markets for instruments and accessories by referring to “monthly magazines” none of which he names. In point of fact, Popular Astronomy from the SPA appears bi-monthly, and the independent Amateur Astronomy comes out quarterly. 

    Author Philip Pugh does name his favorite brand of equipment, Sky-Watcher. He cites them 16 times (as “Skywatcher”), which is as often as he mentions Meade (7), Celestron (6), Takahashi (2), Astro-Physics (1) , and Tele Vue (1) combined. Other labels are similarly passed over with brief mentions. 

    In fact, the references to Astro-Physics and Tele Vue underscore the fact that this book is poorly edited. The brand names are misspelled as Astro Physics (page 250) and indexed as Astro physics; and Televue. Takahashi is misspelled as Takashi (page 28) and Takahasi (page 250). Plossl (never, as proper, Plössl or Ploessl) appears in the index as two lists: Plossl and Plossl eyepiece. 

    Those small errors reveal the lack of professional proofreading. That speaks to the painfully obvious fact that this book reads like a first draft. The author loves (even in parenthetical comments!) exclamation points! Pugh just wrote this off the top of his head and Springer accepted it for publication. 

    As an indication that the author did not have his manuscript fact-checked by an independent reader or even check his own work, the definition of ED (extremely low dispersion glass) is wrong, and wrongly stated. He calls ED “extra dispersion” throughout the book, and in the Glossary: “An extra dispersion lens is an improvement in the achromatic objective lens theme where it uses extra dispersion flint glass to improve performance.” (page 368).  

    Perhaps the hallmark of his style is that he avoids unequivocal statements. Pugh cannot discuss telescopes (pages 6-8) without digressing to his preferred choices among binoculars, even though “Choosing Binoculars” is the next section after “Choosing a Telescope.” Paradoxically, that section is not at all about choosing a single telescope but argues very well that you need more than one. The author’s apparent fear of absolute statements results in meaningless advice. “While it is true that the Usual Suspects (see the appendix) can sometimes look better under clear conditions, some gems such as M81 in its full glory have to be enjoyed while the chance is there.” (page 41). That sounds like good advice: whatever your skies right now, take the opportunity to view what you can. But if you read the words carefully, Pugh is saying that M81 can be seen in its full glory even though not under clear conditions, which contradicts the opening clause. 

    That example is from the section “Too Cloudy to Go Out?” (page 40-41) which is about why is it not really too cloudy to go out because telescopes can often cut through poor seeing conditions. Faint clusters, dim companion stars, and more can all be viewed under bad conditions. I get the point, but an editor would have retitled the heading. 

    Aversion to unequivocal assertions delivers many instances of “however.” 

    “Unguided exposures at long focal lengths can be troublesome on some mounts because of tracking errors. However, you will find that auto-guiding can compensate for this very well. Celestron offers a version of this mount. Moving up in quality and performance, companies such as Astro Physics, Takahasi [sic], and Software Bisque manufacture excellent mounts. However, considering the typical cost, they are not mounts for a beginner!” (page 250). 

    Why are such mounts not suitable for a beginner who can afford them? He never says. 


    David Arditti

    Thanks for the review. It sounds fair. It is a common observation that the proofreading of Springer’s astronomy books has been poor to non-existent in recent years. Some of them are good, if they have a careful and dillligent author who writes well. It appears this one is not an example of that.

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